Don't open that door no matter what.
Quinn heard it above the chaos.
Damion pulled at the door, unaware that the Quinn had locked the knob earlier, so he and Tony rattled the door from separate sides to no effect. Rosie hung on his shoulders. It slowed him down, frustrated him, but it was typical Rose, drugs or no. Roger helped by getting Rosie back, and while she was loose and near limp, that made it like wrangling a noodle. And the three of them were unprepared to be bowled over by Quinn.
"You can't open that door." She guarded it with her body.
"We have to," Rosie pleaded. "I have to see that it's really him."
She was the first on her feet, the others stunned by confusion, and Beagsley got in her way but she stumbled over him and as he lunged for her, fangs and teeth, he ripped open her tail when he tried to drag her back. And back she went. Drugged up, she didn't have the mental fortitude to take on a mighty beast--and Quinn, who wrestled her away. Quinn's own panic took over. Rosie was down, but Quinn kept pushing, and Roger ran over to break it up by pinning Quinn in an armbar he learned from the WWE. Someone stepped on Damion’s toes.
The thuds on the hardwood. The yells and guttural calls. The growls more vicious than anything that sweet dog had ever needed.
And through it all, Tony banged at that door. No faster. No slower. No calling through to ask what the hell was happening. Just knock.
"Stop!" Roger screamed when Quinn punched.
Damion gave little ineffective kicks to shoo Beagsley.
"Where's the gun, Tony?" Quinn yelled.
And the room went quiet. Even the dog. They could hear the buzz of electricity in the waiting. The heater sputtered. Quinn panted, swallowed the build-up of spit, and with this one question winning her some small victory, she wondered what to do when they all realized what she knew.
Damion peeked at the window.
"Tony?" Roger called out. "Show us and she'll let you in."
Damion shook his head.
"He probably left it. Out of bullets," Roger made a guess.
"Or saving them," Damion said.
The door safe and the group settled, Beagsley resumed barking desperate to be heard and Quinn went silent.
"This is Tony, guys! Not some psycho."
"What's the difference?"
Quinn looked away from the dog. "We have to leave."
"What?" both the boys sounded in unison.
"What happened to the lodge being the safest place? We stayed for a reason."
Quinn grabbed her coat and hat and wrapped the blanket around Rosie like she was a burrito. "You'll die here. I'm leaving with or without you. Let's go, Rose." She grabbed Beagsley's leash still attached to his harness on the counter and she didn't have time to fiddle with that so she carried the dog.
Damion got in her way. "He's not producing enough force to break through. Why run? You sneak out the back and you expose the rest of us."
"Lock it after me."
"It's TONY!" Roger yelled.
Beagsley licked Quinn's cheeks, tasted the salt running down them. "No, it's not. Tony's gone."
In the silence they noticed--the knocking had stopped. Damion looked at one window, the one where Beagsley liked to lay, and didn't see Tony at the door anymore. They went to the other window and there he was. His face a mess.
It wasn't just the light hitting a weird angle. His face was like a prune. Mushy, desiccated, discolored. So many wrinkles.
"He needs our help!"
Roger started for the door, but Quinn had her knife again.
However, Damion couldn't look away from Tony.
His pores leaked. The lines on his face weren't wrinkles but swollen veins. The fattest ones ran up either side of his chin, connected over the nose, traced his eyebrows, and sprawled across his forehead like spiderwebs and where the capillaries ended, there leaked his pores. Black droplets. Hanging. Then tearing along his blood vessels. Damion saw Tony's skin split open like canvas as black goo covered his face. Damion leaned in, fascinated.
Tony smashed his face against the glass.
The cracks spread.
"We're leaving." Quinn bolted for the storage door.
Roger, too, ushering Rosie.
He saw Tony smash through the glass. It tinkled onto the floor below the window sill.
Tony kept pushing through.
The crossing wood frames ripped like paper as Tony shoved his face inside. The jagged edges cut his shirt and caught dead skin but he would not bleed. He would not stop.
And Damion could not move.
Outside, the rifle fired into the air. Hunter, on one knee, aimed at the back of Tony's head and ordered him, "Down on the ground!"
Damion was saved.
And yet, he still ran.
The others hadn't gotten far, just outside the door, when Damion heard screams and a gunshot and more screams and another shot and this sound like ketchup squirting and Rosie stopped to look so Damion shoved her ahead, not stopping to help her up, Roger did that, and Damion just ran, ran like wild for Quinn and Beagsley. If anyone could, they'd protect him; only Quinn knew they couldn’t.
Whereas Glenn, Sunny, and Malia went south down the mountain, this group in their panic fled north, up, where the forest thickened with evergreens so thick snow never landed and they walked on pine needles. However, even the tall trees arched from the weight of an old ice storm. Nothing could block this blizzard.
Overhead, Damion spotted powerlines. Thin silhouettes that swore warmth if they could follow far enough.
Quinn asked, “Why are there--” but Damion interrupted.
He took the lead from Quinn, who had walked slow, scanning the dark, but Damion kept his eyes ahead, even as they hit the timberline where perforated orange plastic ripped at one metal stake and hung limp from another that had all its paint chipped off. Pushing aside seedlings with their young roots insulated, Damion walked past the snow fence, climbing over the snow drift that had stretched it till the paint faded and then torn. There was no more wind cover. But Damion swore at the other end, they’d find warmth.
The electrical lines ascended a crag. It sloped enough for a goat, maybe even for them, if they had light, climbing experience, and energy beyond desperate adrenaline.
“Back to the forest? Not so windy,” Roger said.
Damion tried climbing but slid down. He paced around the snow in his socks.
His favorite part of the cabin: the hardwood. It was like when he was a kid and his mom polished the hallways and the wall at the end had smudges from times when he'd picked up too much speed from new socks. His last apartment had carpet and roommates. They wore their shoes in the apartment, too! Lunacy. He could do it at his current living quarters with its wide, regularly swept corridors, but he didn't want to draw attention to how casually he treated his university office, lest they find his pillow.
And now, through the snow, up a mountain, his socks were not just soaked, but ice shoes. The group needed the promise of those electrical lines to be true.
Willing the slope to get gentler soon, Damion continued around the crag for that breadcrumb of hope.
“What should we do, boy?” Quinn asked Beagsley, nestled under her coat with her breasts a perfect cover. She looked like she’d given up her daily jogs in favor of daily Korean barbecue, but at least the little pup kept her warm, through his body heat and the added effort of hauling him. “Please talk to me.”
But Beagsley had nothing he could say other than what they all felt sapping them: Too cold.
The group followed each other in the dark by the heavy breaths and the snow trails everyone kicked up with big clomping steps through knee-high snow. No one had a phone or a light but Quinn advised them, “Close your eyes for a minute and let your rods and cones adjust. You won’t see many details but better than blind.”
Roger saw no details on the back of his eyelids, but he was paired with Rosie under her blanket and she guided him along ridges too tall to be buried by the snow rose up. The current ridge started to turn in on itself and so Damion scrambled over. He expected the group to follow.
Damion didn’t stop.
Rosie helped him up.
The path Damion took them on ended at a cliff, straight up. “We’ll go--we’ll go the other--other way.”
That other way was a ten-minute backtrack and they couldn’t find it again in the world of white and shadows.
Damion retreated into math as Quinn took point. About -4 C. Wind speed: 15 m/s. The windchill formula. -17 C. Dry, covered skin, safe. But toes. In this blizzard. And out, thirty, forty minutes--hypothermia.
"L-l-let-t-t me..." he stammered.
Roger had shoes, but in the rush, he grabbed Malia's leather coat. It hadn't been enough for her during the warmest days inside. With the collar of his graphic tee hooked over his nose, his slow, shallow breaths no longer warmed his arms tucked inside. Even under the blanket with Rose wasn't enough. Not warm enough, not big enough.
"Not." Roger tried to say "Not yet," but couldn't.
Rose gave up her spot. She had her kigurumi still, wet till the legs froze like greaves shielding her shins from logs. Tripping did not crack her armor.
"Down," Damion stuttered, needing Roger, just a few centimeters taller, to duck because the cold air was in.
"Wait." Roger mumbled.
The blanket rode up on Roger's calves as Damion walked too fast and he yelled between clenched teeth, "DOWN!" They stumbled in the snow as Damion yanked the blanket down and Roger wouldn't get up and Damion carried on, wrapping the blanket tighter around himself.
Quinn stopped him. He looked at her covered with hat, gloves, a coat, shoes, and plotted mutiny. But she sat him down next to Roger, all of them sharing warmth, and counted her breaths. When she got to one hundred, she punched Roger to wake him.
"Mmm," he said in a shiver.
"You've had your 20 minutes to nap," Quinn told him. "Now let's go."
Rosie helped him up with bare hands going blue, despite keeping them in her pits. He joined Damion under the blanket again.
"Here." Quinn handed Rosie Beagsley. "Little radiator will keep you warm."
"Hey." The dog had gone silent, not even shivering. The group had trodden quietly so as not to be tracked and the weather kept them quiet save for these squabbles and soft whimpers.
Quinn felt the cold same as the rest, but she could no longer carry the dog. Exposure had sapped her. And no one knew what to do. Or how long till the road and even if they found that road, how long till shelter. Or did they build shelter? But then it'd find them.
"Wait." Roger dropped.
Again, Quinn gathered the group and counted her breaths but the soothing rhythm of numbers was putting everyone to sleep, herself included, and even a ten-minute snooze in this would kill them. "Get up. That half hour should’ve done you some good."
Roger said closed-mouth, “Mhm.” The group started on again, but Roger stayed standing. He leaned against a tree. Closed his eyes again.
Quinn kept her hands tight to her body but bumped Roger with her shoulders to say “Let’s go,” and again he grunted affirmative, like he understood, and the group started but Roger stayed where he was.
Damion kept walking. Rosie, too. And, with one last look, Quinn.
Then Damion huddled under his blanket, where the chill swaddled him like only his nanny could. And he found sleep quick.
The women marched on.
Rosie set down Beagsley. His legs buried and chin on the edge of the hole he sunk into, he waited.
"I'll stay," Quinn said and sat with her hands in her crotch.
Rosie walked, eyes closed, asleep, until she ran into a bluff.
That opened into a cave.
Where it was safe.
She needed to go back.
She propped Roger up on her shoulder, as he had done for her. Damion took a few kicks to rouse but would not move till she stole the blanket then he joined the mound of people, staggering through the trees. Roger hit one. It stopped them all. They waited, unaware how near Quinn was. Quinn thought they were it and wandered toward, but it was them, just people. Blind, moving like sleepy drunks in a tied-leg race, they found the bluff. Stopped. Rosie nudged Damion and he fell but caught himself and kept falling and kept catching himself and that started their tangle of legs inching toward the cave. This ugly frozen huddle collapsed against the wall. The frozen blanket contained little warmth and little life. Roger slept with his nose smooshed.
They were safe in their dreams that felt forever, when Rosie remembered Beagsley, still waiting.
She could not make it the final steps to those kneeling under the blanket so she slept curled around the dog.
Someone tried to wake Rosie. Does she wake up?